Chris Tang is one of China’s brightest young players and potentially an Olympian. Some Internet pundits have already compared him to Jeremy Lin.
Robert Boezeman’s family in the Netherlands is heavily involved in the sport of basketball, but after watching NBA and college games on television, he knew he wanted to play in the U.S.
It’s an interesting mix of story lines and backgrounds, but it’s not a coincidence that this collection of players found its way to UC Riverside.
The group is the first of what Highlanders coach Dennis Cutts hopes is the program’s new globetrotting approach to successful recruiting.
After floundering for more than a decade in the Big West and typically failing to woo top local players, UCR is now focused on recruiting internationally. It’s not a new strategy – several programs scan teams in Europe or club teams with international ties for potential players – but it is new philosophy for UCR.
“We felt we had to find a unique way to attract talent,” Cutts said. “One of the things when I got (the job) was that we were going to explore that.”
Assistant coach Stephen Sauers has spearheaded the international search. His coaching connections have proven invaluable, Cutts said, including what has become a pipeline of sorts with the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands off Spain.
The academy, according to its Web site, strives to develop the best basketball players in the world, at all levels.
Both Boezeman and Tang played at the CBA.
“My dream since I was 12 years old was to play college Division I,” said Boezeman, who played in the European championships with the Netherlands Under-16 and Under-18 national teams before going to the CBA. The 6-foot-7 forward signed last fall to come to UCR after being heavily recruited by Sauers.
Tang signed in the spring. The 6-4 combo guard from Jiangsu, China, had already made a name for himself in the U.S. after earning all-state honors as a freshman and sophomore at Hampton Roads Academy in Virginia and then playing at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy.
He averaged nearly 16 points per game for the CBA U-18 team, which reached Spain’s 2014 National Youth Championships, and proved a top 3-point threat, hitting 44 percent of his shots. Cutts said ACC and Big East schools had shown an interest in Tang.
The pressure to perform is nothing new for Tang, who has developed a following in China, but wasn’t sure what to make of the Lin comparisons. “I wish they would call me Dwyane Wade,” Tang told Grantland in a 2012 story. “I want to play like Wade. An athletic guard who gets to the rim.”
On a UC Riverside campus that is 35 percent Asian or Asian-American, Tang said he’s hoping to draw some attention for the team and students.
“It will be exciting to play in front of the Asian community,” he said. “They will be supporting me.”